Nearly 9 years after they were arrested on August 31, 2012, Mohammed Ilyas (38) and Mohammed Irfan (33) were released late on Tuesday night, hours after the court acquitted them of all charges, including under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), citing lack of evidence.
Both left for their homes in Nanded on Wednesday. “Bas, nau saal jo gaye, sab hawa mein (nine years have been lost),” said Irfan.
Ilyas and Irfan were among five persons arrested from Nanded in August 2012 by the Maharashtra ATS, which linked them to a seizure of firearms and said they were part of a Lashkar-e-Toiba conspiracy to kill politicians, police officers and journalists.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over the probe in 2013. On Tuesday, the special NIA court in Mumbai convicted the three others — Mohammed Akram, Mohammad Muzammil and Mohammed Sadique — under the UAPA and Arms Act and sentenced them to 10 years in prison.
While the detailed order is yet to be made available, the court acquitted Irfan and Ilyas, saying there was no evidence against them.
Before they were arrested, Ilyas had a fruit business in Nanded while Irfan owned an inverter battery shop. In their multiple bail applications over the last nine years, the men said neither the ATS not the NIA had submitted any evidence against them.
Ilyas said he filed at least four bail applications, but was rejected each time.
In Irfan’s case, there was a glimmer of hope in 2019, when the Bombay High Court granted bail, stating that prima facie, there were no reasonable ground to believe that the allegations against him were true. However, Irfan was back in jail within four months, after the Supreme Court granted a stay on the HC’s order following the NIA’s submission that “there is likelihood of recurrence of commission of offence which might affect the security of the nation”.
The legal team of Jamiat Ulama E Maharashtra, which represented Irfan and Ilyas, said no notice was issued to Irfan and he wasn’t given a chance to respond before the stay was granted.
Irfan surrendered before the trial court on December 4, 2019, and remained in jail till his release last night. “I was out on bail for four months. I was attempting to put my life back on track. I had hoped I would never have to go back to prison again. The last 18 months that I spent in jail after I surrendered were more difficult than the previous seven years,” he said.
Earlier this year, both his parents had to be hospitalised after they tested positive for Covid-19, said Irfan. His 62-year-old father, a driver with the zilla parishad who has since retired, would travel to Mumbai for the court hearings. He would either take leave or suffer a pay cut each time, said Irfan.
According to Irfan, the only link the ATS cited were the phone calls between him and another accused, Mohammed Muzammil. Muzammil owned an autoparts shop near Irfan’s shop.
Ilyas said his acquittal did not come as a surprise as he knew that there was no evidence against him. “After my arrest, my business had to shut down since the landlord asked us to vacate the premises. I could not follow up on my bail pleas in the higher courts, despite knowing that the case against me was weak, as I did not have the legal or financial ability. If I was granted bail earlier, I would not have lost so many years of my life, despite there being no evidence against me,” he said.
Ilyas said that when he was arrested, his youngest child was just over two weeks old. In the last nine years, he met his wife and three children only once, at the Taloja Jail in 2017.